Violence

We are never very far from violence of one kind or another. Recently, trolling and online abuse have come to the fore; but every day, it seems, we read of bomb attacks, murders, abuse of the most vile kind. Acid is flung in the face of women who want to be educated, refuse to marry/don’t have large enough dowries, or simply want to help others but fail to observe local customs. Men who don’t conform to what is expected of them have their limbs broken or their heads bashed in. We wax indignant and call for controls and forget that violence originates in the heart.

Twitter is no more than a tool, a vehicle for self-expression. If what we want to express is violence, violence is what Twitter will express. Internet sites like ask.fm may generate a dynamic of their own, but again, if what is running through the minds of those who use them is cruel and violent, cruelty and violence is what they will show. If we want to lash out at others, either physically or verbally, that is what we will do, unless we ourselves are under control, unless we accept that there are restraints on our freedom. Don’t blame Twitter, blame the tweeter; don’t blame the gun, blame the person who fires the gun!

Today is the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known to many as Edith Stein. She died at Auschwitz because she was Jewish and the Nazi regime saw the destruction of all Jewish people as a part of its ‘mission’. She was a victim of anti-semitism but, even more, of the inhumanity we can each show to the other. Today, as we think about the violence being perpetrated by others online and off, we could take a long hard look at our own hearts and see what is lurking there. We may be surprised, and perhaps shamed, to see how much violence we too are capable of, were it not for the grace of God holding us back; and if we are honest, we may be forced to admit that the petty resentments and spiteful words that sometimes slip out of us proceed from the same deep well of violence and anger as others’ more obvious crimes.

Note: I have written about St Teresa Benedicta many times. Last year’s post may interest you, here, or the one from 2011, here, which links with today’s.
PostScript: How could I forget! Today is also the anniversary of the death of Dom Augustine Baker. Fr Baker was a great master of contemplative prayer:

Fr Augustine Baker
Fr Augustine Baker
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St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

It is strange how an apparently trivial image can impress itself on the brain to the exclusion of others. This morning at Vigils I kept coming back to an incident in the life of St Teresa Benedicta which we know of only by hearsay. The train which carried her to Auschwitz stopped at Breslau, the town where she had grown up, and the gate of one of the trucks was opened for some reason. One of the railwaymen reported that a woman dressed as a nun stood in the open doorway and looked out over the city, murmuring that she would never see it again. It is a scene easy to imagine. The stifling August afternoon; the smell of coal and human sweat; the despair in the trucks; men going about their ordinary tasks outside. It reminds us that heroic sanctity doesn’t look particularly heroic to onlookers: it is ordinary, drab, even dull. It is only later that we see its significance, how it illumines and redeems the evil it confronts.

I have written about St Teresa Benedicta before, both in iBenedictines and its predecessor, Colophon, (e.g. see here), but this morning it is that image of the saint gazing at Breslau which stays with me. She was brave and she was brilliant, but instead of the anger we might have expected, there was a calm acceptance of the death she was to undergo. Her last words to her sister Rosa were allegedly, ‘Come, let us die for our people.’ She is one of the few people who have managed to live up to her name, ‘of the Cross’; and like the Saviour who hung there for us,  she ‘was never wroth’. There is a lesson there for all of us.

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Edith Stein, Mob Violence and the Absence of a Moral Compass

Today is the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein. It is also a day when Britain is again in shock. The idea of mob violence, torching and looting in some of our major cities is hard to get one’s head round. Life in Britain is meant to be predictable and ‘safe’. The police are armed only in exceptional circumstances. We respect people; we respect property; we form orderly queues; we don’t think the death penalty has any part to play in civilized society. But our civilized society isn’t proving very civilized at present.

For an older generation, there are echoes of the 1930s. The Nazis rose to power because they had a ‘solution’ to the apparent disintegration of German society after the First World War. Violence, as we all know, was part of that ‘solution’. It meant the death of St Teresa Benedicta and her sister, Rose, and millions of others besides. No doubt, following the riots in London and elsewhere, there will be calls for ‘crackdowns’, appeals to ‘bring back flogging’ and other variations on the theme. Extremist parties will win votes because people are afraid, while others will speak of the rioters as ‘deprived’ and ‘frustrated’. Very few will have the courage to address the real problem, that of growing up without a moral compass, without a set of values that recognizes the need to observe the laws and customs by which society operates.

What we are seeing in our streets is not a protest movement, nor is it the result of poverty (to say so is to insult the poor). It is sheer criminality: violence and greed running unchecked. It is indefensible. Today our prayers are for all who have suffered as a result of the riots, which includes the rioters themselves. They are prayers for peace and the restoration of order; but let us not forget to ask the prayers of St Teresa Benedicta to preserve us from  the destruction of the tolerance and mutual concern which underlie a civilized society. She understands better than most where the violence could lead.

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